Tulips after they bloom

Tulips are a spring garden favourite. They bring beautiful colour to a flowerbed and bring with them the positive optimism of springtime. However a question that tulip growers always want to know the answer to is whether their tulips will return year-on-year and add that magical touch to their garden again and again. We investigated the answer to that question.

Are Tulips perennials or annuals?

The quick answer to this is yes. Tulips are naturally perennials coming back year-after-year. However, in some circumstances when they do return they are smaller and don’t blossom as well in their second or third years. This happens sometimes when they are grown outside their natural climate. For this reason, wisdom often suggest that they’re only annuals and should be replanted every year. This is not the case universally. With the right care and attention their brilliant flowers can make a welcome return appearance in the following spring. However, if you live in an area with a challenging climate for your tulips you can always replant them annually in the autumn so that they’ll always brighten up your spring.

What is the best climate for Tulips?

Tulips originate in Central Asia and prefer a climate of cold winters and hot dry summers. They have flourished particularly in countries like Turkey and Holland and are a popular garden feature in many parts of the world. However, in locations with wetter cooler summers and/or warmer winters they don’t tend to do as well. Therefore it is important to ensure that you do as much as possible to keep them within their natural environmental conditions. They can however be given a bit of help to avoid disappointing crops during the next spring, as we’ll see below.

How can I make my Tulips come back every year?

There are a few simple tricks to ensure that your tulips aren’t just a one-time only feature of your garden.

  • Choose the right type of bulb: Certain breeds of bulb are more hardy than others and choosing the right one can make a big impact on whether your tulips will bloom as beautifully the following year. Emperor tulips and Triumph tulips are two breeds that are known for their “perennializing” qualities. When you’re buying your bulbs check that they are labelled as perennial.
  • Compensate for the climate: There are a few things you can do to perennialize your tulips further. Location is crucial. Choose a sunny area to plant your bulbs and plant them deep (about 10 – 15cm) to give them a better chance of coming back.
  • Cut them annually after they’ve finished blooming: When your tulip blooms come to their natural end and the petals start to fall away, take action! Cut off the dead heads from your tulips to help the plant conserve energy for the winter months.
  • Keep them dry: Tulips need water of course, however too much water will weaken the bulbs. If you see standing water forming in your tulip bed then add some something absorbent like bark chips to the soil, or dig them up and move them somewhere a little drier.
  • Give them some extra energy: Make sure you keep your tulips fed. They only need one feed a year in the autumn and it is recommended to use bone meal fertilizer.

Tulips just need the right touch and they’ll always brighten up your surroundings. In nature they are known as the “harbingers of spring” and with the right steps you too can enjoy that spring feeling year-after-year.

If you want to make sure your loved ones experience the magic of tulips every year without fail, share a beautiful bouquet of fresh cut tulips to add a touch of spring colour to their home. Deliver tulips from our spring catalogue to over 100 countries around the world and ensure fresh flowers and smiles always reach them.

Bulb Expert Tips

Tulip Tips

From the Master Gardener at Washington Bulb Co., Inc.

Tulips are one of the easiest flowers to grow successfully in the garden. Plant bulbs in the fall and even a novice gardener can expect to see beautiful flowers in the spring!

Tulips are classified as a perennial flower. This means that a tulip should be expected to return and bloom year after year. But we all know that this is not always the case. If tulips are perennials, then why don’t they behave as perennials?

The answer is really quite simple. Tulips are native to Eastern Turkey and the foothills of the Himalayas. They will perennialize best in conditions that match the cold winters and hot, dry summers of their native region. In addition, species and botanical tulips perennialize best. Hybridizing sometimes diminishes a tulip’s ability to perennialize, other times it enhances this ability.

Growers have been able to succeed in places like Holland and the Skagit Valley by digging their tulips every year and giving them temperature treatments in the summer months that manipulate the tulips and somewhat replicate what they would be receiving in their native region. These treatments have been developed over hundreds of years and they are still being modified today as new varieties are being developed. Using this knowledge helps growers to expand their stocks and grow big bulbs, while the home gardener may have less success.

Understanding Tulips: A further explanation of what happens to tulips during the growing cycle would help us all to understand tulips better. To begin with, tulips are planted in the fall and they immediately start to root. They root slowly in the winter months and are receiving cold temperatures that stimulate them to sprout in early spring. (In warmer climates, we artificially give them these cold temperature treatments in our coolers.) As the temperatures get warmer, the tulips start to grow rapidly and eventually they bloom. At this time, the bulb that was planted is totally used up and actually starts to disintegrate. New bulblets form and start to grow – this period between blooming and the plant dying is referred to as the GRAND PERIOD OF GROWTH. This is when the energy flow reverses and starts to go downward to build new bulbs instead of upward to form flowers.

Growers top the tulips about three weeks after blooming for two reasons: First, they must remove the flowers before the petals fall in the foliage. If they were to ignore this step, the dropping petals would cause the tulip plants to rot and die down before the new bulb(s) had a chance to grow. Topping also removes the seedpod from the plant, which if left would rob some of the energy that would otherwise go to the new bulb. Six to eight weeks after removing the blooms, growers usually dig the tulips and the process of drying, cleaning, grading, and temperature treating takes place.

When deciding which varieties to raise, growers must evaluate many qualities of each cultivar. Some of these are color, height, stem strength, plant structure, whether it forces, disease resistance, skin quality, how it grows, etc. Growing qualities are very important to the grower and every variety has different qualities. Some varieties make many new bulblets for every bulb planted. Others make very few or even only one bulblet for every bulb planted. Varieties that make many bulblets are not desirable because they usually don’t produce many saleable bulbs. This is because the energy being received from the plant is divided into too many bulbs. Others that make few bulblets are not desirable either because they may yield plenty of saleable bulbs and not leave enough planting stock to keep the stock going. The grower has to pick varieties that meet all the other desirable qualities and at the same time have the growing qualities of producing big bulbs and enough planting stock to continue the stock.

Experience has taught us that the best varieties for home gardeners are ones that make fewer bulblets. These bulbs tend to perennialize better because the energy from each plant goes to fewer bulblets and these then stand a better chance of growing big and returning year after year. This is especially true in gardens where growing conditions may not be as ideal as in a grower’s field. Species and botanical tulips also perennialize well because they are very close to native strains and have high disease resistance. They are usually smaller and less spectacular, however.

Other tips are:

  • Always plant tulips in a well-drained and airy soil. Wet soil promotes fungus and disease and can even rot bulbs, especially tulip bulbs. Wet soil can also cause bulbs to drown out which is actually due to suffocation. Suffocation can also be caused by tight soils that don’t hold much oxygen. Adding compost and coarse sand to a soil will make it more airy. We recommend raised beds in wetter areas and suggest that you have at least a 10-inch depth of loose airy soil. Proper soil drainage is very important when planting bulbs.
  • Fertilize and water bulbs when planting. Though too much water is not good, sufficient water at the time of planting is necessary to get them growing and to ensure the start of a strong root system.
  • Plant tulips about 6 to 8 inches deep, measuring from the base of the bulb. If you add mulch after planting, include this as part of your overall planting depth. After the tulips have passed their peak, top the old blooms and let the plants die down normally. This will help the new bulblets grow bigger.
  • Fertilizing in the fall with special bulb fertilizer is always a good idea, especially if you haven’t dug your bulbs and are trying to get them to perennialize.

Tips for Growing and Cutting Tulips

Whether you are planting or cutting tulips, these tips gathered from gardeners and designers featured in Flower will help you get the best results.

Photo: Sheila Sund via Flickr

Tips for Growing Tulips

  1. Plant tulips when temperatures average 60 degrees or lower. (This could be September in the North and December in the South.)
  2. Check with your local cooperative extension service to see if you need to pre-chill your bulbs prior to planting. If you pre-chill bulbs in the refrigerator, keep them away from vegetables, because they release a gas that can keep bulbs from flowering.
  3. Bulbs like soil with a pH of 6 to 6.5. Have a soil test performed prior to planting in case you need to add lime or aluminum sulfate.
  4. Be sure to plant in a sunny area with well-drained soil. Tulip bulbs rot in standing water.
  5. Plant large bulbs a little deeper than recommended to ensure strong stalks.
  6. Fertilize in fall and early spring with a bulb fertilizer to ensure stronger bulbs and a slightly longer bloom time.
  7. Water your bulbs after planting. You should not have to water them again unless you live in a naturally dry area.

Remove unwanted tulip leaves by gently pulling them back and peeling them away from the stem.

Tips for Cutting and Arranging Tulips

  1. Cut the flowers to bring in your home just before the bud fully blooms.
  2. When cutting or purchasing cut tulips, wrap the stems in wet paper towels to keep them from drying before you get them home.
  3. Cut each tulip stem at an angle with a sharp knife or floral snips. This will make the tulips last longer and make them easier to insert into the arrangement.
  4. Remove unwanted leaves by gently pulling them back and peeling them away from the stem.
  5. In case you have a droopy tulip, you can wire it around the stem from top to bottom to hold it upright.
  6. To keep tulip petals from opening up any further, take a straight pin and prick each tulip through the stem just beneath its bloom.
  7. For more open tulips, try this: “An insider trick I picked up is to manually open up tulips,” says New York event designer Mimi Brown. “Gently flip back the outer petals; this can be just a smidge, or it can be pulled way back. (If a petal splits, don’t worry.) Doing this can dramatically change the look of the flower.”
  8. Experiment with letting tulips open fully for a dramatic look. California-based floral designer Lauryl Lane says, “I love letting them pop like that. Of course they don’t last very long after they’ve fully opened, but if you time it just right, they are stunning in event arrangements.”

Mimi Brown gently opens a reflex tulip (see tip 7). Photo by Becky Luigart-Stayner

Fully open tulips make a statement (see tip 8). Arrangement and photo by Lauryl Lane

More Tulips and Spring Arrangements

  • Learn all about tulips and how to make beautiful tulip arrangements from tastemakers in the floral, event, garden and interiors world.
  • Tulipomania and how history’s wildly coveted tulip found its way to today’s gardens.
  • Our Favorite Tulip Arrangements – This collection inspires with cheerful bunches of single-color tulips, glorious combinations of tulips and other spring blossoms and fantastic centerpieces.
  • For the Love of Narcissus – These blooms are a favorite harbinger of spring and, with their cheerful faces, become total show-offs.

Tulip season in Holland

Part of Holland is transformed into a vast sea of flowers from mid March to mid May. It starts with crocus season in March, which is followed by daffodils and hyacinths. Finally the tulips show their gorgeous colors, this is from mid April through the first week of May.

  • Visit the enchanting flower bulb fields.
  • See over seven million flower bulbs at the Keukenhof.
  • The tulip fields are at their best towards the end of April.

Fields filled with beautiful color

Its long spring season with cool nights makes Holland the perfect country for tulip growing. The soil in the polders is continuously drained, creating perfect growing conditions for tulip bulbs, which love well drained but moist soil.

From mid March to the end of May, the tulips transform big parts of Holland into a colorful patchwork quilt. If you are traveling to Holland do see the tulips in April, you will discover fields filled with gorgeous color everywhere.

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Where are the tulip fields?

Most tulip farms in Holland are located in the Noordoostpolder in the province of Flevoland. The flower bulb fields along the coast of The Hague and Leiden up to Alkmaar in the north are also a great way to enjoy these beautiful flowers. The Keukenhof, the world’s biggest flower exhibition, is famed for its many tulips and is just a 15 minute drive away from Leiden and 30 minutes from Amsterdam. FloraHolland is the world’s biggest flower auction located in Aalsmeer, just 30 minutes by car from Amsterdam.

Tulip season

Travel to Holland in mid April to see the tulips at their best. Tulip season runs from the end of March until mid May, but the flowers are usually at their best halfway through April. More than 7 million flower bulbs bloom in spring at the Keukenhof in Lisse. It is one of the best places to discover many different kinds of tulips. However, in this time of the year you really only have to board a train or pick up a bicycle to watch the tulips in all their glory in rural fields.

Spend the night nearby the tulip fields

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When is the best time to see Dutch tulips in bloom?

    Tulips and other flowers mainly bloom during spring. March through May is therefore the best time to visit the Netherlands if you want to watch them in bloom. The world’s most beautiful spring park, the Keukenhof, is open during this time.

  • Where is the flower parade held?

    There are various flower parades in the Netherlands. Visit the flower parade in the bulb region, Lichtenvoorde or Zundert. These take place on different dates.

  • When do flowers bloom in the Netherlands?

    Tulips and other flowers mainly bloom during spring. March through May is therefore the best time to visit the Netherlands if you want to watch them in bloom. The world’s most beautiful spring park, the Keukenhof, is open during this time.

  • When is the Keukenhof open?

    The Keukenhof is open from the end of March to mid-May. This is the period when the flowers are in bloom.

  • Where are the tulip fields located?

    Tulip fields are found in the bulb region near the Keukenhof, in the Noordoostpolder and in the province of Noord-Holland.

Netherlands Flower Bulb Information CenterTulips grown inside in water-filled containers probably won’t rebloom a second year.

Q: In February, I bought a beautiful group of tulips in a glass container that has little “pockets” for each bulb to grow in water indoors. They did fantastic. Now the leaves have yellowed and are dying back. My question is how do I store the bulbs with the goal of putting them back into this glass container to bloom again next spring?

A: You’ll have much better results buying new tulip bulbs (or other bulbs) next fall. Your indoor-grown, water-fed tulips face two big challenges: recharging and chill time.

Your existing bulbs aren’t likely to do well because they haven’t sufficiently recharged themselves. Indoor light isn’t nearly as intense as the sun, and your water didn’t supply much nutrition.

The weeks just before and just after blooming are critical for bulbs because that’s when the foliage is manufacturing sugars that are stored in the bulb to produce for the next round of flowering (photosynthesis).

Most tulips aren’t terribly good about coming back year after year anyway, even when grown outside. Depending on variety, sometimes you’ll only get a good year or two out of them.

But let’s assume your tulips managed to manufacture enough energy to produce another of flowers. To trigger a new round of bloom, they’ll first have to undergo enough chill time to simulate winter. This is what people in hot climates have to do, by the way, in order to grow tulips outside in spring.

Tulips need at least 10 to 12 weeks of temperatures down to 40 degrees or less in order to get the weather cue they need to “think” they’ve been through winter.

The easiest method is just to store the tulips in a mesh or paper bag in the vegetable bin of a refrigerator. Some fruits (especially apples) give off ethylene gas that can cause bulbs to rot, so store the tulips only with veggies.

After 3 months, remove the bulbs, set them in the glass container, add water, and in 3 to 4 weeks you should see flowers.

Another option is to pot the tulip bulbs in a light-weight potting mix and set them out in October in a window well, unheated garage or patio. Or bury them in a hole surrounded by leaves. Give them enough water to keep the soil mildly damp if you chill them above ground and not buried. (Rain usually keeps buried tulip pots damp enough.)

After 3 months of this chilling, gently remove the tulips from the pots, rinse off the potting mix and set them back in your glass container. You’ll probably even see the tips emerging by then when you bring them in.

Most tulips in garden centers haven’t been chilled when you buy them in fall. If you just put them in your container immediately, they most likely wouldn’t do anything — or at least wouldn’t flower.

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Sunday – May 18, 2008

From: Cedar Rapids, IA
Region: Midwest
Topic: Propagation
Title: Will potted tulip rebloom next year
Answered by: Barbara Medford


We bought tulips that were in bloom in small pots in May, and planted them in the back yard. Now my friend tells me they will not come up and bloom next spring, that you must only plant tulips as bulbs.


Buying flowering plants is often nicer for gifts or a get-well gesture than cut flowers, because the blooms last longer. Alas, once the bloom fades, the plant probably will, too. Most potted flowering plants are “forced” in large commercial greenhouses, perhaps in order to be sold for special days like Mother’s Day or Valentine’s. All of the plant’s energy has been put into producing the flower, and nothing is left over for reproduction. There is usually very little, if any, root in the pot. In your case, with tulips, there is probably a bulb there, but whether it will reproduce next year is problematic. Many gardeners treat tulips as annuals anyway, putting in fresh bulbs every Fall for Spring bloom.

Since the tulip is a native of the Middle East (not Holland, as many think), it is a little out of our field. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is dedicated to the care, protection and propagation of plants native to North America. However, we found this Yardener website on “Caring for Tulips” that will give you information on propagation. Just for an experiment, you could always follow their instructions to dig up the bulb after the leaves turn brown, separate any bulblets from the main bulb, let them rest until Fall, and then, with fertilizer, replant them. The smaller bulbs will probably not bloom for two to three years, but if there is a healthy large bulb, they might very well bloom again next year.

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